Frank Sinatra sang about New York City that “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”
Well, the Rio Jazz Band can make it anywhere.
The band made off with first place in the public high school competition at the prestigious Charles Mingus Festival at the Manhattan School of Music and made it into Essentially Ellington.
“Having gone up against such talented groups, the fact that we won was gratifying,” senior Henry Lunetta said.
“This was the fourth year that Rio has attended the festival, but this is the first time that we have won. All the hard work in the past four years has really paid off.”
Band teacher Max Kiesner led the February trip to New York.
The group arrived on Friday and absorbed the sights and sounds of the Big Apple, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, eating at Grimaldi’s Pizza in Brooklyn, and taking in a jazz show at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan.
After Saturday clinics and jam sessions, the band competed on Sunday.
“The Charles Mingus Jazz festival was like looking into the eyes of God and coming out alive,” senior Harrison Smith said.
Smith, along with Andrew Stephens, Joey Cozza, Henry Lunetta, Jeric Rocamora, and Paul Slater won Best Combo.
Furthermore, Mesich, Cozza, and Stephens were recognized as outstanding soloists and were invited to play with the Mingus Big Band that evening at the Jazz Standard, a famed nightclub.
“It was great seeing schools from across the country put the same effort into the things we do,” junior Taylor Mesich said.
“It makes you more open to everything else out there and aware of all the talent that there is. There are high benefits for the amount of work you put in.”
Overall, the band learned from their experience.
“The Mingus jazz festival gave us a unique insight into the jazz profession,” Smith said.
“It taught us skills about performing in a professional manner and taking on responsibility in a musical sense.”
“The microcosm of New York City brings out the artistic flavor in all of us,” senior Paul Slater said.
“Role models from coast to coast tended to our musical needs.”
Soon after the New York trip, band members learned that their previously submitted recording of a Duke Ellington song had earned them a trip to Essentially Ellington for the second consecutive year.
The Essentially Ellington Festival is highly selective and is held at Lincoln Center.
Rio is only one of 15 schools in the country – and the only school from California – to make the final cut.
“Essentially Ellington is unlike any other festival,” senior Jack DuBois said.
“We are treated like professional musicians in a cosmopolitan, dreamlike setting. The actual performance was nerve racking but incredibly rewarding. A lot of members of the band don’t aspire to be professional musicians but it’s safe to say that it will always be a huge part of our lives.”
“I feel like Ellington will be like staring into Medusa’s gaze,” Slater said.
“You can take one look and boom – you’re stone, man. Stone forever. And the worst part is you can’t look back or you turn into salt. Salt, man. Salt.”
“Ellington gives us a different perspective on our roles in different ensembles,” Smith said.
“Playing in a big band is very different from playing in a small group and it gives us an excellent opportunity to take part in both.”
Closer to home, Rio bands and musicians took several honors at competitions at Sac State and in Roseville.
Last month, the Small Ensemble Night consisted entirely of original music composed by members of the class.
At the Roseville Woodcreek Jazz Festival a small combo won first place.
At the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Youth Festival at Sac State they won Best High School Group, Best High School Club Group, and several individual awards.
Best High School Group was “In the Swing of It,” featuring Clayton LaFlamme, Devan Kortan, Emma Simpson, Jacob Swedlow, Lucas Bere, Nolan Cyr, Sarah Pearlman and Brodie Mills.
Best High School Club group, ‘Young Men Playing Jazz,’ was directed by and featured Kortan, and included Carson Messer, Andrew Stephens and Lucas Bere.
“What I wanted to do was get a bunch of kids together and play music the way we wanted,” said Kortan, who held rehearsals in his living room.
“It had to fit in the traditional jazz idiom, but you can do so much with that.”
In the Swing of It played “Sheik of Araby,” “Georgia on My Mind,” and “Accentuate the Positive.”
Korton sang and played banjo, an instrument he that he said “puts me in that place of being back in the early 1900s and that early style and early feeling.”
Even though he won an individual awards, he credits his bandmates for the group’s success, especially Stephens.
“Andrew has been playing traditional jazz his whole life and he really gets it,” Korton said.
“The way he plays trumpet exemplifies ‘trad jazz.’”